James Bond Is Dead, Long Live James Bond: A Closer Look At Skyfall

Skyfall isn’t your typical James Bond movie, and seeing as it’s the 23rd of them to be released since 1962, that’s saying something. It’s not brand confusing, Never Say Never Again weird, or strange in the Moonraker, race-of-hyper-evolved-space-people sense, but it’s undeniably different from every Bond film that has come before it. That includes the previous two Daniel Craig movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which already felt a bit more like stepchildren rather than full-blooded heirs to the legacy.

Both those films can be seen as stepping stones leading to Skyfall, with the serious tone, more grounded action, and rougher-edged hero establishing the telltale signs of the Craig era, like how a ridiculous number of gadgets lets you know that you’re watching a Roger Moore entry. Yet, Skyfall sticks out not just as a culmination of the “Craig trilogy,” but also as an unprecedented moment of self-reflection upon both the franchise as a whole, and the cinematic influences that have been guiding James Bond for the better part of a decade.

While guys like Tony Soprano and Stringer Bell were busy kicking off the Golden Age of the small screen, movies at the start of the 21st century were similarly defined by anti-heroes.  The last ten years saw a shift in focus towards more morally ambiguous protagonists, with the internal workings behind established icons – ones who used to just get away with righting wrongs, spouting a one-liner, or just getting the bad guy – becoming more important. Batman changed from a campy comic book superhero to a dark vigilante, Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side to became Darth Vader, and audiences went to theaters in droves to witness the gruesome last days of the Ur-Western hero, Jesus Christ.

In Bond’s case, the rebirth of Ian Fleming’s time-tested spy as a steely, but deeply wounded government asset had as much to do with the franchise’s past failures, as another’s surprise ascendency. Thanks to a diamond-powered space laser and invisible Jaguar XKR, 2002’s Die Another Day was the closest thing to a death rattle since License to Kill, and it was clear that both Pierce Brosnan, and Bond as the world knew him, were due for retirement. This was made all the more apparent in the wake of Jason Bourne’s explosive appearance on the scene, mere months before Die Another Day. Bourne rewrote the rules of the espionage game: garish villains, impossible tech, and a smarmy, invulnerable lead were out; post-9/11 paranoia, kinetic photography, and a compromised hero were in.

Casino Royale took those lessons to heart when it premiered in 2006, and audiences noticed. Daniel Craig’s straw spun mop was just a taste of the changes the franchise had undergone during its proper transition to the new millenium, with Bond evolving into a gnarly rough and tumble, who seethed and grimaced everywhere a quip and smirk used to fit. Echoing the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (unforgettable to fans, less so to the producers), Casino Royale ended with the newly inducted 007 heartbroken at the death of his lover, the resulting rage over which became the drive for the sequel, Quantum of Solace. Thanks to the writer’s strike, that film hued closer to the Brosnan bunch in terms of plot, characters, and general quality, but it did provide an imperfect coda to Casino Royale, one that teased the mysterious Quantum group (perhaps a 21st century version of SPECTRE) as an ongoing story hook for the next director, Sam Mendes, to pick up.

Mendes didn’t do that, for a number of very good reasons, not the least of which being how tepidly received Quantum was, especially when compared to the near-universal praise garnered by Casino Royale. Delayed by MGM’s bankruptcy, Mendes and his team of writers were given something else to work with, due to the rescheduling of Bond 23’s release date to 2012: the 50th anniversary of Dr. No. What could have easily wound up being a half-hearted acknowledgement of Bond’s continued existence, was actually designed as a proud celebration. Bond’s golden anniversary was hyped and marketed for months, in a campaign that included a serendipitously timed in-character cameo from Craig, during the opening of the London Olympics. Given that Mendes and company had less than a year to film and process Skyfall, and had lost venerated writer Peter Morgan during preproduction, it’s a minor miracle the film lived up to expectations. Since its release, Skyfall has earned massive amounts of praise from critics and fans, and is ready to supplant Quantum of Solace as the best-selling Bond movie ever, only three weeks into its North American run.

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Comments (4)

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  1. I don’t get it. Why is it such a habit for some to to kick the last guy out the door- and for that matter I see how sadly short some people’s memories are.

    Pierce Brosnan was a great Bond, and to say this takes nothing away from Craig in his own choices. People forget that some of the same things were being said in 1995. They said James Bond was dead creatively and because there was no Cold War how could they possibly continue making the films?

    Then Goldeneye was released and became a huge hit. At the time, it refreshed the Bond franchise- in fact it had actually SAVED it. Coincidentally, Goldeneye was directed by Martin Campbell who went on to direct Craig in Casino Royale, which was also something of a hit. Personally I like both movies allot.

    Brosnan is my generation’s Bond, and sure not all the movies added up to what they could have, but whatever faults exist I don’t attribute to his take on the character. In fact he played the character very well, leaving his own stamp like all the others before.

    Something else I have to mention here. ‘Updating’ a franchise should not include (within reason) completely rearranging character’s personalities, appearance, and major things that audiences and fans alike have come to expect. Modernizing it is fine, but changing it past recognizable is a no-no. The one unshakeable LAW that must be held to is, don’t forget fundamentally who the character is or how they act. If you don’t, your basically selling something else.

    Those that are quick to toss away the old foundations in order to make it ‘edgier’ or ‘modern’ are lazy. Trying to find clever ways to incorporate the old is the proper, and in my opinion the only way to handle a franchise character. Unfortunately it just makes it that much harder for the next guy who has to re-adapt it again. The fact that they got this part right (this time) means the filmmakers understand that.

    1. LJBsays:

      Agree with you here. Each Bond has had some ‘bad’ entries, Connery never reclaimed the heights of Thunderball. OHMSS has become better with age, and was the first to ‘investigate what made Bond tick (resignation, love etc). I personally feel Diamonds are Forever is one the weakest of the franchiise.

      Bond would not have survived without Moore in the 70’s. yes, he was past it by AVTAW (possibly earlier) but TSWLM reclaimed Bond after the dip that was TMWTGG

      Daltons Living Daylights returned Bond to gritty espionage and whilst Licence to Kill was a good film, it felt like a movie that had Bond in it rather than being a Bond film (much like QoS).

      I think Brosnan came across as a little lazy by DAD, but the first act and a half are still very good, must be because of the source material, it just looses it’s way once it goes off the Fleming storyline (Graves as Drax from the Moonraker Novel). As for Goldeneye, that certainly rescued the franchise and returned the glamour aspects of the Bond films after a large gap from L2K.

      As for Skyfall, Bond disappearing (presumed dead) and having to prove himself again by going after a killer is lifted from The Man with the Golden Gun, so once again the Fleming’s story comes to the fore.

      It is a great film and introduces us to the man we have known for the last 50 years and once again uses the traits that Fleming developed so well.

  2. TomBrownsays:

    I think this argument is more to is bond still bond?

    On that basis I dont think so the current recreation of 007 doesnt ever feel like he is the agent spanning through time. based on Daniel Craigs 3 films bond seems like a German killing machine who gets lucky by his victim leaving obvious clues that point him in the right direction after he kills the without thinking.

    I mean in skyfall when he watches the assassin shoot the guy in the tower he waits a ridiculously long time and then he gets noticed which is just poor writing this of course is not Daniel craigs fault as he is just the actor.

    Also Silva refers to himself and James and 2 rats who were the last 2 but when exactly is the film supposed to be set. I know some say its outside the cannon and others say his are prequels but the writers seem to pick and choose mid film when it is set.

    1st casino royal was a prequel but had Judy Dench even though she was introduced as the 1st female M in Goldeneye confirmed by Valentino.

    2nd He is driving a Aston Martin DBs

    3rd in all films M (at least judy dench) sees James as an asset and they dont seem like each other but in Skyfall they seem to have deep care for each other.

    4rd as i said above Silva and james both confirm they are the last 2 but again based on other films we can say with some certainty that there has been or still is at least 7 double 0s.

    5th Money penny simple secretary money penny is introduced in skyfall despite based on other films pre-dates judy dench and already knows bond plus isnt she too over qualified to be a Secretary since she apparently now was a field agent.

    I think the whole film was not terrible but was by no means a great film if it was not carrying the James bond title it would have been much better.

    I personally think james bond was more for his wits then his brute force but it appears that its now more the Bond Identity then James bond sadly

  3. paulussays:

    each bond is relevant to the age it originated. The later Brosnan movies feel out of sync. Craig’s started strong and is realigning to match the viewing tastes of this age.

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